Tom Cotterill was one of the many Allied soldiers involved in the final German retreat to the mythical Hindenburg Line as the clock inexorably counted down to the cessation of hostilities on November 11 1918. This unassuming young man was the author”s great uncle and as a member of the 15 Royal Warwickshire regiment provides both a personal connection to these last hundred days and also highlights the everyman status of a majority of the Allied soldiers.
Nick Lloyd develops the understated and heroic role of the man next door cum brutal warrior by breaking up the historical narrative with soldiers” accounts of life at the front. This gives the reader an insight into the raw emotions of the period and lends insight and immediacy to the more sober narrative. As one American soldier recounts his first contact with actual warfare, the reader gains a sensory appreciation of the psychological impact of war:
“The war came to him when he smelt the damp earth of the trenches or shuddered as shells screamed down upon him..”
Most readers would be familiar, if not in the detail then in the general recognition of the infamous trench battles of the mid-war years at the Somme, Ypres and Verdun but the final battles at Marne and Amiens in the late summer of 1918 are more poorly recorded.
Conspiracy theorists or just disbelieving German commentators still adhere to the notion that the Germans were stabbed in the back and did not need to concede defeat. However the mounting German dead and the political concern of a Bolshevik revolution at home suggest that this may be nothing more than frustration that an often brilliant military machine didn”t have the stamina, manpower and leadership to push home all its military advantages.
Ultimately the almost surreal reactions to war”s end, of soldiers simply carrying on their normal routines, bears witness to the numbing of the emotions caused by exposure to so much death and suffering and may explain why this culmination of four years of bloodshed has been largely forgotten.
Hundred Days – The End of the Great War by Nick Lloyd.
Published by Viking (an imprint of Penguin Books)
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